In “The Manifest Destiny of Artificial Intelligence” (The American Scientist, July-August 2012), Brian Hayes talks about the scaled-back expectations for artificial intelligence. Not that he quite puts it that way.
Will AI create mindlike machines, or will it show how much a mindless machine can do?
Fifty years later, problem-solving machines are a familiar presence in daily life. Computer programs suggest the best route through cross-town traffic, recommend movies you might like to see, recognize faces in photographs, transcribe your voicemail messages and translate documents from one language to another. As for checkers and chess, computers are not merely good players; they are unbeatable. Even on the television quiz show Jeopardy, the best human contestants were trounced by a computer.
In spite of these achievements, the status of artificial intelligence remains unsettled. We have many clever gadgets, but it’s not at all clear they add up to a “thinking machine.” Their methods and inner mechanisms seem nothing like human mental processes. Perhaps we should not be bragging about how smart our machines have become; rather, we should marvel at how much those machines accomplish without any genuine intelligence.
But why can it do work without intelligence? A hint here:
Writing in Nature last year, Etzioni remarked, “The main obstacle to the paradigm shift from information retrieval to question answering seems to be a curious lack of ambition and imagination.” I disagree. I think the main obstacle is that keyword search, though roundabout and imprecise, has proved to be a remarkably effective way to discover stuff. In the case of my baseball question, Google led me straight to the answer: On July 5, 1960, the Red Sox lost to the Orioles, 9 to 4. Once again, shallow methods that look only at the superficial structure of a problem seem to be outperforming deeper analysis.
In fact, the machine needs no genuine intelligence because it is automating the work of a human being who has both intelligence and purpose. Whose mind almost certainly does not work in the same way as the machine anyway.